Cornwall’s affair with Poldark, Pilcher and other artists

Cornwall has a long and rich history in the arts and crafts. From ancient metal workers and miners to the comparatively more recent artists and authors, Cornwall’s clean Atlantic air, dramatic and scarred landscapes have provided the inspiration to some equally rich, colourful and dramatic pieces of literature and art.

Here is a small taster of some authors and their novels that have stimulated the imagination and bought the Cornish countryside and rich cultural heritage to life.

Around 1930, Daphne du Maurier came to Cornwall with her family as a budding 20-year-old author. Within a year of moving here, Daphne du Maurier demonstrated her passion for the area with her first novel, ‘The Loving Spirit’ which received rave reviews. Then came her most famous three novels ‘Jamaica Inn’, ‘Frenchman’s Creek’ and ‘Rebecca’ each one being inspired by her love of Cornwall, where she lived and wrote.

Not far from Daphne du Mauriers house (literally up the creek) is another Cornish treasure; the Cornish Village of Lerryn. The author Kenneth Grahame is said to have based the famous children’s book ‘The Wind in the Willows’ or ‘Tales of the Riverbank’ here. If you get a chance to visit, glance up to Ethy Manor which stands on the hillside above the village. One gets a sense that this could have been the inspiration for Toad Hall.

Moving further west and onto north coast is the pretty town of St. Ives where we find Virginia Wolf’s childhood home; a Victorian villa, nestling on the edge of St Ives above Porthminster beach. The view from here stretches North along the coast towards Godrevy lighthouse; the inspiration for Virginia Wolf’s celebrated literary work ‘To the lighthouse.’

Inland from Godrevy is the village of Lelant, where internationally-renowned author Rosamunde Pilcher was born. Her novel ‘Shell Seekers’ topped the New York Times bestseller list. Many of Pilcher’s books have been now been turned into films.

The Guardian newspaper wrote: Claus Beling was the editor at ZDF who came up with the idea of turning Pilcher’s work into film. “I have always been fascinated by the Cornish landscape. Its lights and colours are very special,” he says. “Pilcher is amazing in conjuring up pictures of that scenery.”

He thinks the success of the series is down to a general German fascination for grand landscapes – and to a nostalgic longing for a more traditional world: “where a village is still a community in which everyone looks after one another”.

One can’t mention books that have been made into films without talking about Poldark. The author Winston Graham started his first series of the books in the 1940s and 50s. It’s a story of class struggles, feuds, but most of all love. The nation has embraced the latest adaptation about a young man (Ross Poldark aka Aidan Turner) returning to his home in Cornwall, struggling to make his Cornish mines turn a profit.

The Guardian journalist Viv Groskop says: The cinematography is stunning, the landscapes enough to melt the hardest heart. It makes you proud to be British. Additionally: Aidan Turner’s presence renders this series sublime, alongside the wit of Ruby Bentall (Verity Poldark).

The dramatic and beautiful scenery of Cornwall has served perfectly for many artists. One artist of note is the St Agnes born esteemed artist Edward Opie.

Thanks to generous donations from museum members and grants from the Art Fund and the Victoria and Albert Museum Purchase Fund, St Agnes Museum has been able to increase its collection of works from the revered Opie family. If you have the chance, visit our local museum and see the wonderful exhibitions for yourself.